The EU-Turkey refugee deal: one year on, still a disaster

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Idomeni refugee camp in Northern Greece. Flickr/Julian Buijzen under a Creative Commons Licence

The world has focused on Trump’s wall and Muslim-ban, and Britain and the EU have managed to pursue their own equally draconian migration policies, writes Aisha Dodwell.

While global attention has been paid to Trump’s Muslim-bans and Mexican border wall, the governments of Britain and the EU have managed to pursue their own equally draconian migration policies.

While they may have passed largely under the radar and escaped mass public outcry they are part of the same chilling attempt to promote a new global norm whereby refugees and migrants are no longer offered protection but are instead sent away, often right back to the very places they fled from.

This week marks one year since the controversial EU-Turkey deal was signed with the aim of stopping people reaching Europe’s borders in Greece by returning new arrivals back to Turkey.

The deal has been called a ‘disaster’ by Amnesty International, while Human Rights Watch has accused it of setting a dangerous precedent of disregarding international refugee laws. Thousands of people have had to endure the chaotic consequences of the deal. Not only were people forced in to unlawful detention immediately following the agreement, but some 5,000, potentially very vulnerable, people are now totally unaccounted for and at least 15,000 migrants and refugees remain in squalid conditions in camps across Greek islands.

Britain and EU, however, remain defiant in proclaiming the deal’s overwhelming success. In response to Global Justice Now’s campaign calling on the British Foreign Office to end the inhumane pact, the department simply reaffirmed its commitment to the agreement and to continue returning people to Turkey. In correspondence from the Foreign Office, they stated that Turkey ‘offers sufficient protection, in law and practice, to returnees.’

The Foreign Office dismisses security concerns about terrorism by simply stating that ‘refugees have not been targeted’ while at the same time gives contrary advice for British citizen’s travelling to Turkey, stating that there is ‘a high threat from terrorism. Terrorist groups…continue to plan and carry out attacks. Further attacks are likely and could be indiscriminate.’

On top of Turkey’s current politically instability, most refugees there are not actually offered full protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention which completely undermines the notion that Turkey constitutes a safe country to which refugees can be returned.

More migrant deals spell more misery

Not only has Briatin stood firm in its support for this deal: it is now also using this model as a blueprint for more migration pacts that essentially allow it to outsource its border controls, abandon its responsibilities under international refugee law and, most sinisterly, help normalise the practice of forcibly sending refugees on, either to an unsafe third country, or to the very places they have fled from.

This new norm can be seen in numerous subsequent deals made since the EU-Turkey one. This includes the deal with Afghanistan, whereby unlimited numbers of people can now be forcibly returned to Afghanistan, despite it still being one of the world’s most violent countries. It also includes a new style of migration policy that aims to send people to the other side of the world. Just last month, Theresa May announced a £20 million commitment to the Emerging Resettlement Countries Joint Support Mechanism – a scheme that help sends refugees from places like Syria on to Latin America or Asia, rather than re-settle them in Europe.

This attack on refugee rights doesn’t stop at turning people away once they arrive, it also focuses on stopping people in ‘transit’ countries, which is the rationale behind the new deal made with Libya whereby the EU is to fund migrant camps inside Libya, as well as train coast guards to stop people leaving the country.

This is happening despite UN reports showing how migrants in Libya are routinely exposed to torture, forced labour and sexual violence. The situation is particularly severe for women migrants travelling through Libya, many of whom, faced with an almost certain fate of rape or sexual abuse, take contraceptives as a preventative measure. 

Meanwhile, the lives of child migrants are being put at risk by yet more new migration policies.

As if turning its back on child refugees by axing the ‘Dubs scheme’ wasn’t enough, in recent weeks the EU renewed its Action Plan on Returns. It places emphasis on the need to speed up the ‘removal’ of migrants from Europe, and doing so with fewer safeguards and increasing the use of detention.

Related: The protection of refugees needs a strong civil society

A statement from a group of NGOs who focus on child rights have warned that this will have particularly severe implications on children who are more vulnerable to many forms of exploitation. Last month three children in Europe’s detention system committed suicide as they were unable to cope with the immigration and removal process, or handle the prospect of being returned to Afghanistan.

Taken alongside what is happening in the USA, with Trump’s sabotage of the national refugee programmes and his outright banning of certain people from entering the country, it becomes clear that the world’s wealthiest countries are turning their backs on migrant rights and refugee protection. And other countries are following suite. When the Kenyan government announced its plans to close the Dadaab refugee camps, it suggested EU policy had influenced the decision. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s authorities are attempting to send thousands of refugees back to Afghanistan.

These are dark days for the global community who seem to have forgotten the lessons of history. The UN refugee convention was, after all, established in the aftermath of the second world war to ensure that the atrocities of the holocaust were not repeated.

Returning us to the days where there were no refugee protections or rights for migrants will place us firmly on the wrong side of history.

This blog post first appeared on Global Justice Now.

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Britain starts 2017 handing billions of aid money to private sector

Aid supplies reaching earthquake-hit Nepal from Britain in 2015

A DFID staff member supervises the unloading of UK aid from an RAF C-17 aircraft in Kathmundu, Nepal on the 29 April 2015. The flight is carrying vital UK government aid stocks to Nepal, including shelter kits and solar lanterns. DfiD UK under a Creative Commons Licence

One day in to Parliament's first week of 2017, the British government set the scene for the new year by seeing through a piece of legislation that hands over billions of pounds from the country's aid budget to the private sector.

The disastrous Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC) Bill gives the green light to an eight-fold increase in the amount of money that the Department for International Development (DfID) can give to the little known CDC Group. Under the bill the current cap of £1.5 billion will now increase to an eventual £12 billion.

The government plans to spend this additional money at a rate of £1billion a year over the next ten years. That’s a staggering £1billion of British aid money each year that will not be spent on ‘poverty reduction’ as most people understand it.

Wholly owned by DfID, CDC Group is a company whose stated objective is to reduce poverty through investing in business in the global south, often via private equity funds.

While putting money in to sectors that are lacking funds may sound like a sensible enough idea, in reality the investments made by the CDC Group have extremely questionable development impacts for poor communities. The company has supported projects including luxury hotels, shopping malls, expensive fee-paying schools, private hospitals, restaurant chains and advertising companies.

The problem with the CDC Group's approach to development is that it is based on the ideological belief that 'rising tides raise all ships' which is the idea that economic growth at the top ends of society will automatically benefit everyone in that society. That is how they can get away with the bizarre logic that investing in high-end businesses can be done in the name of poverty reduction. This is the extreme end of the market-based approach to development that DfID has been pursuing for some years, but is now being ramped up with terrifying commitment from DfID's new leader Priti Patel.

Related: 10 Economic myths that we need to junk

The problem with basing policy on ideology is that it delegates evidence to an inconvenient truth. In the case of the CDC Group the evidence that their investments have at best questionable effects on poverty reduction comes from numerous independent bodies. Only last November the National Audit Office report in to the company found that it is a ’significant challenge’ for DFID’s private equity arm CDC ’to demonstrate its ultimate objective of creating and making a lasting difference to people’s lives in some of the world’s poorest places’.

In light of the lack of proof that CDC investments have any real lasting impact on poverty reduction, and given the lack of accountability that comes with the use of private equity funds, it is wholly irresponsible of Parliament to have granted the CDC Group such huge amounts of extra money. And the fact that the vast majority of CDC Group's investments in private equity funds go through funds based in tax havens, this bill makes a mockery of the government's supposed plans to address tax-avoidance.

The passing of this controversial bill through the Commons comes despite attempts by both Labour and the SNP to amend the Bill in parliament, a series of exposés in the national media and thousands of Global Justice Now supporters lobbying their MPs to put a stop to the Bill.

Although the Bill is to pass through the House of Lords over the next few weeks, as this is a money bill – meaning it is associated with public spending – the Lords have limited powers to intervene.

It’s pretty disheartening to kickstart the year with a new bill based on an erroneous ideological belief that places blind faith in the power of markets and the private sector to solve all the world's problems. It means there will be countless new dodgy aid projects that we need to resist.

It makes it more important than ever that we keep a close eye on how the country’s £12 billion a year aid budget is spent, and continue to hold this government to account to ensure British aid meaningfully reaches those who need it the most.

For more info on the CDC Bill, see the briefing Inviting Scandal – DfID’s dangerous plans to expand its controversial private equity arm.

Corporations running the world used to be science fiction – Now it's a reality

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A view of New York City's business skyscrapers Randy Pertiet under a Creative Commons Licence

Imagine a world in which all of the main functions of society are run for-profit by private companies. Schools are run by multinationals. Private security firms have replaced police forces. And most big infrastructure lies in the hands of a tiny plutocratic elite. Justice, such as it is, is meted out by shady corporate tribunals only accessible to the rich, who can easily escape the reach of limited national judicial systems. The poor, on the other hand, have almost no recourse against the mighty will of the remote corporate elite as they are chased off their land and forced into further penury.

This sounds like a piece of dystopian science fiction. But it’s not. It’s very close to the reality in which we live. The power of corporations has reached a level never before seen in human history, often dwarfing the power of states.

Today, of the 100 wealthiest economic entities in the world, 69 are now corporations and only 31 countries.* This is up from 63 to 37 a year ago. At this rate, within a generation we will be living in a world entirely dominated by giant corporations.

As multinationals increasingly dominate areas traditionally considered the primary domain of the state, we should be afraid. While they privatise everything from education and health to border controls and prisons, they stash their profits away in secret offshore accounts. And while they have unrivalled access to decision makers they avoid democratic processes by setting up secret courts enabling them to bypass all judicial systems applicable to people. Meanwhile their raison d’etre of perpetual growth in a finite world is causing environmental destruction and driving climate change. From Sports Direct’s slave-like working conditions to BP’s oil spill devastating people’s homes, stories of corporations violating rights are all too often seen in our daily papers.     

Yet the power of corporations is so great within our society that they have undermined the idea that there is any other way to run society. We are all too familiar with hearing about the threat of ‘losing corporate investment’ or companies ‘taking their business somewhere else’ as if the government’s number one task is to attract corporate investment.

It is this corporate agenda that permeates the governing institutions of the global economy, like the World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary Fund, whose policies and operations have given more importance to the ‘rights’ of big business than the rights and needs of people and the environment.

The problem of unrestrained corporate power is massive, and it requires a massive solution. That is why Global Justice Now is launching a petition to the UK government demanding that it backs the new UN initiative for a legally binding global treaty on transnational corporations and human rights.

This UN treaty is the result of campaigning by countries from across the global south for international laws to regulate the activities of TNCs. In June 2014 they successfully got a resolution passed in the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) establishing the need for such a treaty.

A working group of member states has been set up to take the treaty forward, chaired by Ecuador, they have met once already in 2015, and have the next meeting scheduled for October 2016 to discuss the scope and content of the treaty. Meanwhile, civil society groups from across the world have come together and formed the Treaty Alliance movement which aims to make sure the treaty comes in to being with truly meaningful content.

Although it may sound like a boring technical process, this treaty is something we should be excited about because it provides a huge opportunity in the fight to restrain corporate power. It has massive potential to withdraw the privileges that corporations have gained over recent decades and force them to comply with international human rights law, international labour law and international environmental standards. It would oblige governments to take the power of corporations seriously, and hold them to account for the power they wield. This would standardise how different governments relate to multinationals which means that rather than allowing them to play countries off against one another in a race to the bottom, it would force minimum standards.

But the UK government, well known for its cosy relationship with corporations, has so far refused to take part in this UN treaty. And the UK are not alone, most other EU countries are also opposed to the treaty.

We need to make sure our government doesn’t pass up on this rare opportunity to provide genuine protection for the victims of human rights abuses committed by multinational corporations and place binding obligations on all governments to hold their corporations to account for their impacts on people and the planet. 

That’s why groups across the continent are joining forces to make sure their leaders participate in the Geneva talks this October. The petition launched today, urging governments across Europe to participate in the Geneva talks will be delivered to national and EU leaders on 12 October.

Of course, the battle against corporate power has many fronts and the UN treaty is only one part of it. At the same time, we need to continue to develop alternative ways to produce and distribute the goods and services we need. We need to undermine the notion that only massive corporations can make the economy and society ‘work’. Food sovereignty and energy democracy are just two examples of how it is possible to build an economy without corporations. But as long as corporations do play a role in our economy, we need to find ways to control their activity and prevent abuses. This is why we need to fight for this UN treaty.

The alternative is that we continue to rush towards the dystopian vision of unchallenged corporate power. We cannot allow this to happen. We must fight back.

You can sign the petition on Global Justice Now’s website.

* These figures have been taken from a direct comparison of the annual revenue of corporations and the annual revenue of countries. Sources: CIA World Factbook 2015 and Fortune Global 500.

The Privatization of UK aid

It’s never been a better time to be an aid-funded business. Alongside the UK’s now legally enshrined commitment to spend 0.7% of its national income on aid, a growing trend has emerged where an ever-increasing amount of that budget is spent through private companies. DfID spends some £1.4 billion through private contractors annually, with most of it going to just 11 suppliers. Most of them are private ‘development consultants’, self-styled ‘experts’ on all things international development.

Global Justice Now has just published a report exposing how one such consultancy company, Adam Smith International (ASI), receives hundreds of millions of the UK’s aid budget. In the last five years, ASI has won at least £450million in UK aid funded contracts, with the true figure likely to be even higher. In 2014 alone, DfID spent £90million through the company, who witnessed a whopping £14million profit that same year, proving what a lucrative business international aid has become for these UK companies.

This growing pattern of a small number of private companies winning ever more aid-funded contracts raises serious concerns about the extent to which the core objective of aid spending – poverty alleviation – is truly being met.

As one of DfID’s favourite consultancy companies, ASI is being paid (with UK tax-payer money) to promote projects that often have questionable benefits for the world’s poorest communities. In Nigeria, ASI has been the lead consultant in a £1billion programme to privatise the country’s electricity sector. Price increases as high as 45% have led to demonstrations against the ASI facilitated privatisation programme. In Afghanistan, ASI have assisted the privatisation of the largest banking network in the country and also helped write an ‘investor’s guide’ to the country. In both Afghanistan and Nigeria, the irony of using public aid money to promote free-market reforms (and to pocket a sizeable profit along the way) has clearly not been lost on ASI.

Meanwhile, in Papua New Guinea, ASI helped to draft a policy to handle ‘involuntary resettlements’ which are more commonly known as evictions, alongside helping to write a new mining act. It beggars belief that these projects are considered to genuinely meet the core objective of poverty alleviation.

But the sad truth is the idea of aid money being primarily about poverty reduction is slowly being forgotten. This is most explicitly evident in the Conservative government’s latest strategy on aid spending where poverty alleviation has slipped to being the fourth of four key objectives. A higher priority apparently is to see aid spending as an opportunity to create “new trade and investment opportunities for UK companies”.

Concerns around the relegation of poverty reduction were the focus of last month’s international development committee report which highlighted the how national interests are increasingly prioritised a major objective of aid spending.

If the UK government, and their consultancy friends, are honest about the UK playing a part in helping to address global poverty then its time they stop prioritising their own commercial interests and personal bank accounts. With ASI’s directors earning up to £250,000 a year while minimum wage earners in Nigeria (where ASI works) take home approximately £760, is this really the best way to address poverty?

This month marks the 15th anniversary of the government formally ‘untying’ aid from UK commercial interests. Which makes it a particularly bitter truth that the lion’s share of DfID contracts are still won by a small group of UK contractors, while it remains rare for DfID to work through contractors from the global south.

If we are genuine about spending the UK’s aid money in ways that actually reduce poverty, then we need to end this accumulation of private wealth from public money and start addressing the fundamental structural inequalities in wealth and power that underlie it.

The idea that consultants earning six-figure salaries are the only ones who know how to fight poverty is simply offensive. In fact, these firms often represent the very systems and establishments that perpetuate the underlying structural causes of poverty.

Instead of lining the pockets of wealthy consultants, UK aid could start to be used to strengthen public services, support civil society and build democratic and accountable institutions all of which serve to meet the needs of the intended beneficiaries.

*This article was originally published by politics.co.uk on 5th April 2016*

G7’s ‘New Alliance’ deal is failing farmers in Africa

Janet Moro

Janet Moro of Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania. © Global Justice Now

The message from farmers’ groups in Tanzania is clear. They don’t want an agricultural system that is dominated by large transnational companies; they don’t want to be dependent on purchasing synthetic fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides; and they certainly don’t want a commercialized seed system that sees them being forced in to purchasing new seeds every season. So why, then, does the UK government persist in its support of schemes that are precisely about rolling out this form of corporatized agriculture? Schemes such as the G7’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which, despite its name, is all about pushing policy reforms to expand industrial agriculture and attract private investments.

‘Tell your government to stop helping big corporations coming to Tanzania and profiting from small-scale farmers in order to build their corporate empires,’ was just one of Janet Moro’s impassioned messages she had for the UK. As the founding director of Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania (SAT), Janet has been responsible for organizing training for thousands of small-scale farmers across the Uluguru mountains since she founded her organization in 2011. SAT’s focus on organic farming techniques that use only locally available resources means farmers are entirely self-sufficient and the soils and local environment are protected. The results, in terms of increased yields, have been outstanding too. Farmers such as Hadije Kibwana explained that since attending Janet’s training, her vegetable crop yields have increased so significantly that she now has a surplus to sell in the local market. With her profits she has been able to start the building works for a brand new house.

It is success stories like Hadije’s which have driven the rapidly growing demand for SAT’s courses. Word has spread so far that Janet’s training is now being demanded from farmers as far afield as Burundi and Kenya. Her newly opened residential training centre is able to accommodate large groups of farmers who come for week-long training programmes in various elements of organic agricultural practices.

It’s not just SAT; there are other projects across the country where small-scale farmers are rejecting synthetic inputs and mechanized production methods. Chololo Eco-village in Dodoma, a particularly dry part of the country, is another such example. Between 2011 and 2014 farmers have more than doubled their crop yields following the adoption of techniques such as crop rotation, intercropping and open pollinated breeding for improved seeds.

The results speak clearly: Tanzanian farmers do not need schemes like the G7’s New Alliance to improve their yields and continue to feed the world’s population. This argument is all the more convincing because these farmers aren’t driven by an inherently anti-corporate agenda; they simply want to see their produce flourish. And what increases yields the fastest involves utilizing local natural resources, rather than purchasing foreign synthetic inputs and technologies. It is clear that the future of our food systems rests on ensuring small-scale farmers – not corporations – are the ones in control.

This raises serious questions about what on earth the UK government is doing pouring $900 million of UK aid money in to promoting an agricultural model that stands in such stark contrast to what is being practised by organisations such as SAT. When the UK government’s official line is that they want to reach small-scale farmers, what are they doing supporting projects that are entirely focused on ensuring a favourable policy environment for large corporate investments in African agriculture? In the three years since its launch, the New Alliance has been widely criticized by numerous civil-society groups that have highlighted how the policy reforms and investments have had an array of disastrous outcomes. From landgrabs to farmer debts, and from policy reforms that favour businesses over farmers to seed law amendments which endanger century-old farming practices, the evidence is clear: the New Alliance is going against the interests of small-scale farmers, rather than supporting them.

These worrying outcomes concern Stanslaus Nyembea, the policy analyst and legal officer at Mviwata, a nationwide farmers’ group that represents some 200,000 small-scale Tanzanian farmers. Like Janet, Stanslaus is worried about the encroaching takeover of Tanzania’s agriculture sector by transnational corporations. ‘We see a big risk that foreign corporations want to control the agricultural sector in Tanzania, especially the markets around seeds, fertilizers, chemicals and other agro inputs,’ he said. ‘This is a serious risk to small-scale farmers who might lose their land, which is integral to their livelihoods.’

What makes matters even worse is that, despite a lot of rhetoric, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) seems unable to counter these criticisms by showing any tangible benefits that have come about from their multi-million dollar support to the New Alliance. In the latest twist, the long-awaited annual progress review is now two months overdue, and counting. When questioned on its ongoing support for the New Alliance, DFID publicly announced that the results would be revealed in October 2015. At the time of writing this article, there is still no evidence of it. Upon further enquiry, it seems DFID isn’t even entirely sure who now manages this process. Given that the stated aim of the New Alliance is about reaching small-scale farmers in order to achieve food security and improved nutrition, one would hope DFID were more concerned about ensuring the money spent has achieved these stated ambitions.

Even the European Union has now launched a formal enquiry into the New Alliance. Early in December, a hearing was launched with the release of a review paper authored by the former rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, an expert on food security. He reports that the New Alliance is ‘seriously deficient in a number of areas’, in particular for its silence ‘on the need to shift to sustainable modes of agricultural production’, its failure to ‘support farmers’ seed systems’ and its inability to recognize ‘the dangers associated with the emergence of a market for land rights’. He goes on to berate the New Alliance for ‘only selectively [referring] to existing international standards that define responsible investment in agriculture’ and only paying ‘lip service’ to addressing the needs of women, which is ‘effectively creating the risk that women’s rights will be negatively affected as a result’. Most crucially for a programme designed for food security and nutrition, it is ‘weak on nutrition, hardly acknowledging the links between agricultural production, food and health, and the need to support healthy and diversified diets’.

In light of this damning report, which reflects the concerns that farmers and civil society have been articulating for quite some time, the UK government must admit the need for a serious review of its own. Or better still, it must recognize the failure of the New Alliance to deliver on its stated ambitions and withdraw UK support for the disastrous project once and for all. With hundreds of millions of UK aid money going to the New Alliance, we need to push our government to stop using this money to the detriment of farmers like Janet.

Aisha Dodwell is Campaigns and Policy Officer at Global Justice Now.

Why I will be occupying Parliament Square on Friday

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Occupy Democracy protest in Parliament Square, London, October 2014. bjpcorp under a Creative Commons Licence

While the country prepares to head to the polls for next week’s general election, I’ll be getting ready to join activists from across the country to occupy Parliament Square – the doorstep of our so-called democracy – to demand an end to the corporate control of our democratic system.

This will be the seventh time in as many months that I have joined the Occupy Democracy community: using the square for our ongoing campaign highlights the capture of our political system by the mega-rich, who ensure that it serves their interests of profit and endless growth.

This is evident in the party manifestos released earlier this month. All three of the major political parties continue to support tax regimes favourable to big business.

There is also continued support for harmful fossil-fuel extraction and fracking for shale gas, as well as for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – the secretive EU-US trade agreement which will give extended legal powers to private companies.

The treaty would make it illegal for governments to resist the privatization of health services, lower food safety standards and severely undermine the few remaining labour laws. Regardless of who gets the keys to Number 10 this May, little will change.

For many of us, then, heading to the square on 1 May is more than simply crossing a box, it’s what democracy is all about.

While there will be both voters and non-voters at the protest, what we all know beyond a doubt is that democratic rights will never be simply handed over by those in power – they have to be gained through struggle, protest and the actions of popular mass movements.

By coming together with other like-minded groups and individuals and by continuing to build on the centuries of struggle before us, we know we can continue pushing the wheels of positive social change.

People involved in Occupy Democracy have been collectively developing a vision for the type of change that is needed in order to bring about real democracy. Presented as six core ‘demands’, they lay out some of the initial steps that are needed in order to achieve the necessary longer-term systemic change.

These include a party funding and lobbying reform which would curtail corporations’ access to politicians, a fundamental overhaul of the media industry, banning MPs from having second jobs or vested interests, an introduction of proportional representation and a citizen-led constitutional convention.

While fighting for change, we aim to have fun, too.

The programme for this occupying protest includes workshops, discussions, entertainment and nonviolent direct actions, including the ‘preacher’ and activist Reverend Billy and his stop shopping choir.

If you want to join in and help build a movement that represents the interests of the many, turn up in Parliament Square between 1 and 10 May, and add your voice to those fixing our broken democracy. Follow the event page to find out more.

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